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Grief Cottage: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, June 6, 2017
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"[Godwin] remains a forensically skillful examiner of her characters' motives, thoughts and behavior. Grief Cottage revisits some of her favorite themes--fractured families, parentless children, the initial shock and long-term repercussions of death and disappearance, how the future can run off course in a flash--to make the very good point that it doesn't require a ghost to haunt a life . . . Deeply satisfying." - New York Times
"Godwin may flirt with the magical, but she deals firmly with the realism of depression and loss. It's those psychological ghosts that Grief Cottage is really about." - Washington Post
"Compelling . . . an ambiguous, beguiling tale in which the presence of the supernatural is entangled with--and perhaps precipitated by--characters who are undergoing an emotional crisis." - The Economist
"Godwin's riveting and wise story of the slow coalescence of trust and love between a stoic artist and a grieving boy . . . subtly and insightfully explores different forms of haunting and vulnerability, strength and survival . . . Word will spread quickly about Godwin's tender and spellbinding supernatural novel." - Starred Review, Booklist
"Godwin's forceful prose captivates with the quiet, renewing power of a persistent tide." - Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, "Best Books of 2017"
"An exquisite narrative . . . This grace-filled story probes aspects of life and death, isolation and family, and how great pain and loss can ultimately lead to unforeseen transcendence." - Starred Review, Shelf Awareness
"Marcus' fascination with the ghostly presence of an adolescent boy, thought to have perished at Grief Cottage in a hurricane, allows Godwin to explore themes of loss, connection, and growth unfettered by the corporeal world." - Kirkus Reviews
"Godwin, who has been nominated three times for the National Book Award and written some of the late-20th-century's most affecting prose, is at age 80 nothing if not centered and engaged. . . . Grief Cottage concerns an orphan named Marcus and some ghosts, but it's really about how each of us is haunted, even when we don't acknowledge it." - Lit Hub
"Like Henry James's classic, The Turn of the Screw, Grief Cottage is less a paranormal thriller than an exploration of the psyche's creative tactics to survive trauma . . . Godwin shows she is still at the top of her craft, using the fragile link between living and spirit to illuminate a young man's coming of age in this keenly observed, powerful novel." - BookPage
"Grief Cottage is an absorbing and wise novel. Gail Godwin convincingly expands the meanings of haunting well beyond the appearance of the ghost-boy who triggers Marcus Harshaw's uncanny--and canny--journey of self-discovery." - Washington Independent Review of Books
"A compelling story of family and loss. Godwin's vivid prose, well-wrought characters and captivating plot will keep readers turning pages to the end." - Charleston Post & Courrier
"Godwin again works her magic in a novel at once uplifting and somber. An author whose skills have entranced readers for 45 years, Godwin will turn 80 this month. But do not fret over a mere number, one which has in no way diminished her power to appeal to the intellectual and emotional sides of human existence . . . Grief Cottage melds literary and popular fiction, glows with Godwin's heart and humanity and reflects the wisdom of her years." - Richmond Times-Dispatch
"[Godwin] knows how to make the atmosphere tense and make your skin tingle. At 80, the author, who grew up in Asheville and graduated from UNC, is returning to long-favorite themes: longings and loss, motherless children and the repercussions of death . . . Grief Cottage is not the fluffy stuff of many a summer beach read, but it's well worth a place in your beach bag this summer." - Raleigh News & Observer
"Gail Godwin peers into the souls of her characters to find the healing nature of kindness, tolerance and love." - Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Brilliant . . . Godwin's perfectly flowing prose reaches that elusive place where reality and fiction collide seamlessly. Her ability to infuse characters and settings with heartbreaking depth makes this novel unforgettable." - Woodbury
"Godwin, a three-time National Book Award finalist, mixes horror and mystery tropes with literary musings on growing up and growing old. The result is a sort of supernatural bildungsroman, less a traditional ghost story and more a cautionary tale about the specter of impermanence . . . Full of curiosity and spectacle . . . the novel succeeds in questioning the uncanny and finding life even in a ghost story." - Atlanta Journal Constitution
"A stately meditation on loss and longing." - Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, "Summer Reads"
"Godwin handles the supernatural deftly. It's up to the reader whether Marcus actually sees something or is letting his imagination run riot . . . Godwin's descriptions of beach life, from the quality of light over the water to a nest of sea turtles about to hatch, will make you want to drop what you’re doing and head for the ocean immediately." - Star News (Wilmington, NC)
"Whether the ghost is 'real' or the creation of a distressed psyche becomes irrelevant. As in Godwin's favorite story, Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, it could go either way, and despite the heat of the South Carolina summer, there is a peculiar chill in the air." - Alabama Public Radio
"Can the needs of the living and dead sometimes merge? Eleven-year-old Marcus's desire to believe so leads him, and us, on a harrowing and unforgettable journey toward an answer. Grief Cottage further confirms that Gail Godwin is one of our country's very finest novelists." - Ron Rash, author of THE RISEN and ABOVE THE WATERFALL
"No one writes about the psychological weight of the human condition like Gail Godwin. In Grief Cottage Godwin is able to conjure on the page what few of us can conjure in our minds: the implications of loss and time and what it means to be haunted by both." - Wiley Cash, New York Times bestselling author of THIS DARK ROAD TO MERCY and A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME
About the Author
Gail Godwin is a three-time National Book Award finalist and the bestselling author of more than a dozen critically acclaimed books, including Publishing, a memoir, and the novels Flora, Father Melancholy's Daughter, and Evensong. She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts grants for both fiction and libretto writing, and the Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives in Woodstock, New York. www.gailgodwin.com.
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On the island, he is met with a ghost of a boy who died in Hurricane Hazel fifty years ago, at an old house known as Grief Cottage. The unfolding of the story is Marcus’s summer of mourning, awakening, and maturity. For nature lovers, the atmospheric, raw landscape provides depth to the story, and Marcus’s absorption in the nesting season of the endangered loggerhead turtles is an emblem of the life cycle.
Godwin excels at the tender and unsentimental portrait of Marcus, as well as his relationship with his forthright aunt. I was wary of a narrative about a young boy, especially a "ghost" story, but it is told by the older Marcus, now an adult, and not juvenile, stiff, or saccharine. The candid realism of the child was intact, but with a contoured summons of adulthood standing by. Godwin strikes a harmonic balance so that I felt I was reading an adult book about a child’s experiences, without ever losing the young boy’s immediacy and intimacy.
“ ’Marcus feels the pain of others,’ said Aunt Charlotte, ‘even when they’re dead and gone.’ ”
4.5 rounded up
Marcus finds himself an orphan when his mom goes out for pizza one night and doesn't come back. An accident takes her away from him and he finds himself living with an elderly aunt who lives in a cottage and paints and drinks herself into forgetfulness every day. He is less little boy, than little man, as you wonder who is the actual guardian in this story. This woman, while certainly the adult, fights to forget her tragic past and this boy tries to care for her and find his way through his grief at the same time.
This is a story of relationships...of those friendships and relations that change us, that anchor us in life...that helped to mold who we are today. I became quickly absorbed in this story and honestly, I lost myself in it. I'm very sorry it's over because I really enjoyed every moment, even the sad ones. It is a beautiful testament to the strength of the human spirit.
You will come away from this book feeling like you were truly immersed in someone else's life. It felt very real, most likely because of the very well developed characters and the steady forward movement of the story.
To be honest, I chose Grief Cottage because of the title and cover art. I do the same with wine. While I note the price-point often a vino's packaging sways my decision. A career in branding and marketing has not ensured smarter choices as a consumer. As it turns out Grief Cottage is drinkable but is not the finest vintage.
Atmosphere is well set with the action set on a small South Carolina island. The characters are quite fine with one critical exception. The main character is an eleven-year old boy. I found that the author could not write him to my satisfaction or consistent believability. Having been an eleven-year old boy myself (more than once given my maturity) I found lines like, "I was definitely on the road to manhood", and "I followed her line of thinking, though I shied away from contemplating my nonexistence" hard to picture coming from a ten plus one.
The story itself is a patchwork. At certain junctures, Godwin channels Charles Dickens by assigning characters such names as Coral Upchurch, Lachiotte (Lash) Hayes, and Marcus Harshaw. The family tree that is eventually revealed is very Bleak House. Hmmm, let’s think about that … Bleak House ... Grief Cottage. When she shifts to introduce a decades-old mystery it comes with overtones of Stephen King's Duma Key. Throughout are hackneyed family-of-origin, emotionally-focused therapy breadcrumbs clumsily laid out to explain young Harshaw's troubled situation and behaviour.
Erosion and rebuilding is a dominant theme. This I fear has been done to death in novels set in Portsmouth, The Hamptons, and Hilton Head. Where, by the way, century old properties are increasingly under threat. Land loss in Grief Cottage is equated to the ups and downs and losses in life.
Godwin continues the metaphor to the very end with a contentious meeting hosted by the local government featuring a scientist’s view of the disappearing beaches. Residents shout down his conclusion “that the beaches will be fine but they will move.” Residents vote to install “twenty-three timber groins, jutting out perpendicular to the shoreline”. The intended message is as subtle as a backhoe.
The unintended message is live in the moment. As L.P. Hartley noted, “The past is foreign country” and the future obscure because nothing ever happens as one truly imagines. The final lesson is I have to be more discriminating when it comes to buying wine.